History gets technically advanced

Maureen Nagg

WebCT allows history professors to enrich classes

Assistant professor Argyrios Pisiotis uses WebCT to provide his students with images and maps of the areas he covers in his history courses. Pisiotis also has his personal 19th century postcard collection posted online.

Credit: Andrew popik

A few professors in the history department are taking the usual history courses and adding a technological twist.

These professors are increasing out-of-class learning and independent thinking by using WebCT and WebCT Vista to post learning materials such as pictures, maps, audio files, original documents, films and more online for students to view and learn from outside of the classroom.

“What we value is primary sources and original documents,” said Jaclyn LaPlaca, assistant history professor. “WebCT Vista lets me bring all these documents to one place for students to take advantage of.”

Posting documents and files isn’t the only thing available through WebCT Vista.

Unlike on WebCT, on Vista students and faculty can have interactive discussions outside of class.

“It’s not just about what professors are saying in class,” LaPlaca said. “It helps when students can discuss material with each other, they feel more empowered doing it for themselves.”

Posting discussion topics or questions on the Web brings an extra element to the class, said Alison Fletcher, assistant history professor.

“It jump-starts the class and makes students become more involved in their own learning,” Fletcher said.

Apart from the learning advantages presented to students through WebCT Vista technology, there are more benefits.

Often history books don’t have many pictures or much color, and the visual and audio files posted for students on WebCT is a big improvement, said Argyrios Pisiotis, assistant professor and coordinator of Soviet and East European studies.

Files on WebCT can take the place of textbooks or act as a complement to them, saving money and time for students, Pisiotis said.

“As (students) begin to formulate their own responses while reading textbooks and hearing lectures, I try to stimulate their thoughts outside of class,” Pisiotis said.

While having access to hundreds of files and documents at the click of a mouse makes things easier for students, the process of putting the files on the Web can take many hours for professors.

“I have probably put in more than 1,000 hours by now,” Pisiotis said about digitalizing documents to put on WebCT.

He said it’s worth it because his students love it, and ultimately they learn a great deal from it.

Because WebCT and WebCT Vista add such a strong element to the learning process outside of class, all three professors said they wish they could utilize it more during class.

“For all this to really bear foot, technology in the classroom need to catch up,” Pisiotis said.

Fletcher said there are many things she would like to do during class but can’t because technology in the classroom hasn’t caught up.

“Bowman is particularly dreadful,” she said.

The infrastructure in Bowman is so outdated that Pisiotis is forced to use transparencies during class, instead of the Web, to show documents and pictures, Pisiotis said.

“Transparencies don’t do justice to the documents, students don’t get the full effect when I use them,” he said.

Part of the reason LaPlaca, Fletcher and Pisiotis have such extensive Web databases has to do with the work they have done with the Faculty Professional Development Center.

The FPDC is an on-campus organization that supports faculty in the continued learning and development of their education. To get more information on FPDC go to www.fpdc.kent.edu.

All three professors were FPDC Teaching Scholars for early career faculty.

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Maureen Nagg at [email protected].